The Last Visit
Sometimes when you close a door, you say to yourself, I will never touch this knob again. Sometimes you just know. You know when cardboard boxes are packed with your belongings and your voice echoes through empty rooms of a house, that you won’t be back. You know when you take one last look around your dorm on your last day of senior year; you won’t be back. I might have known I would never see my sister or her house again when I pulled her front door shut behind me ten years ago, but the thought was buried deep under my denial. The kind of denial you need to stay sane. The kind of denial that allows you to believe that you’ll be back.
“See you at Christmas!” is what I would have been shouting over my shoulder on any normal summer visit to my sister’s house in far-away Chicago, but this was no normal visit.
I left without even saying good bye to her beloved cat, Ricky, who must have searched everywhere for my sister after we took her to the hospital days before––searched the white kitchen with its rooster plates and collection of mismatched teacups, the bedroom with her medicine bottles spilling from the bedside table onto the carpeted floor, the bathroom where the wig and the walker and the bed pan were left abandoned. Abandoned just like Ricky, like my nieces and their father, like all of us. But maybe Ricky already knew what we didn’t know, or didn’t want to accept.
It was the last time I would ever step foot in my sister’s house, and I wish I had taken the time to look around, to take note of the home she had, with so much joy and love, created for her family. I forgot to ask her the name of the color of paint on her parlor walls or where she found that little rug in the powder room. I forgot to appreciate the way she organized her linen closet or to find out what she kept in those sweet hat boxes in the guest room, the ones with the lavender flowers that were tied shut with a wide grosgrain ribbon. I forgot to tell her how beautiful her garden was, with the deep blue hydrangea and fat orange roses that flanked the back porch door. I didn’t mention that the bed I slept in was soft and the sheets were lovely and smooth, cool on my skin even in the heat of the July nights.
Sleep didn’t come easy in her house that summer. It wasn’t because my sister hadn’t made her guest rooms welcoming. No, sleep eluded us because she cried out sometimes. Moans that carried with them the weight of loss. It was a sound that settled heavily into the air, making its way down the upstairs hall, slinking uninvited through open doors like the oppressive heat we tried to keep at bay. The night left us anxious and ashamed of how we couldn’t help her. The comfort of her rooms was eclipsed by the stabbing pain of our hearts breaking slowly as she struggled to stay with her family for one more day, one more night.
Beside her, in the dark, my brother-in-law must have propped her pillows and adjusted her morphine-soaked body on the memory-foam mattress that burned the skin off her back, buttocks, and calves. Around her was all the softness and beauty that she had created, but none of us could feel it, see it, or smell it. She had become all there was in that house. Her pain, her every breath, her moans, the sight of her––so foreign except for her eyes, the lightest blue with a hint of green. In the kitchen, meals were reduced to whatever the neighbor left in the freezer. The table was a neglected space, unburdened from fresh picked flowers or the pointed elbows of family and friends.
When my stay was over, there were no farewells. There was only denial––the kind that involves letting myself have hope. Hope that the door I pulled shut might one day open again. Convincing myself that if I didn’t say goodbye, maybe she wouldn’t go.